Part 3 Chapter 13
Chapter Thirteen

1st February, 1917

Outside Épernay, France

It was a cold morning and Emil Holz was wondering what he was doing here. It was something that he’d found himself doing on cold winter mornings every year about this time. First in Verdun and now here. It was something that he didn’t want to make a habit of.

This year the birthday present sent by his mother had arrived early, several pairs of thick wool socks. The woman was a saint, when she wasn’t beating him up for joining the Army, He mused. It was the letters from home that worried him. The US Navy had plugged up the porous British blockade and there were starting to be shortages in luxury items as his father had said in the latest letter. Lang had run afoul with official censors with the columns he was writing for the University newspaper. Lang himself had been totally unrepentant, he said that it was proof that he was doing it right.

He also compared the two years. Rather than standing in the Meuse Heights he was standing in a farm field. Leaning on the finder of an Oberst’s car that they’d borrowed for a few hours in one of those cases of it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. However, unlike last year when he’d been with Walter Horst, a man who he’d trust with his life, he was with Hauptmann Conrad Bauer. A man who he had never been able to trust farther than he could throw him.

Winter had set in and the French offensive had stalled and the 2nd and 5th Armies had made headway again down the East road, even though there wasn’t much road left anymore, with the front lines stabilizing near Château-Thierry, probably for the next 5 minutes. It was the same cut and thrust movements that had become the preferred tactics of both armies in this theater. The idea of digging trenches and stringing barbed wire seemed quaint these days.

With both sides using attack aircraft, light machine guns and with the storm tactics developed by that Alpine officer who was apple in the Brass’s eye at the moment, a long straight trench just seemed to be asking for trouble. Everything they did that worked was copied and even improved upon by the Frogs days, even hours later.

Fox holes had become the order of the day. As had the MG16, the belt fed derivative of the Lewis gun that was growing increasingly common. Not that Spandau would ever admit that they’d copied the American design. Emil ought to know they had one in the back seat of the car next to a case of beer (Bauer said that you never knew when they’d have to buy off a squad of infantry) and a couple of Mauser broomhandle auto pistols.

“Of all the cars in the motor pool why did you have to steal a convertible?” Emil asked Bauer.

“It’s about style” Bauer said “And what are the odds that the Oberst will miss this car today?”

That was Bauer right there. All about appearances, but in a fashion that always seemed to work out well for him.

After they’d found the “tank” both of them had been pulled from the salvage detail and been reassigned to basically be the General’s gofers. As in gofer this, gofer that. Emil suspected that it was mostly to keep an eye on them in case they spoke about things that they ought not to. Bauer had simply transferred his questionable activities from the Somme battlefield to Reims. Emil had realized that he was the guy whose job it was to get the General whatever he wanted, no questions asked.

“Why are we freezing our butts off in a field in the middle of nowhere?” Emil asked.

“It's about creating opportunities.”

“Out here?” Emil said staring at the frozen chaff around them.

“You need to see the how there are opportunities in likely places” Bauer said “What do you know about me?”

“I don’t know” Emil said, brown hair, not particularly tall, well educated, snobbish, polished accent “Typical Prussian officer.”

“You mean an obnoxious toff with stick up my ass” Bauer said in a radically different accent that was back alley Berlin “What if I told you it was as much a scam as a piece of the true cross.”

It was an old joke that there were enough fake pieces of the true cross floating around Europe to build Noah’s ark several times over.

“My mother is the Madam of one of the most exclusive brothels in Berlin” Bauer said “She taught me from an early age on how to blend into the world of the toffs.”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“Give you an infantry company and point you in the right direction and you’d conquer the world” Bauer said “Sit you down at a formal dinner and you don’t know which fork to use.”

“Yeah so” Emil said “A fork is a fork.”

“That’s exactly my point” Bauer said “I can fake it but it’s a bit late for you in the regard. When I asked Stoltz about you…”

Emil rounded on Bauer with surprising speed “You did what?”

“He said that you are honest to a fault, loyal to your friends and usually pay your debts” Bauer stated. If Bauer was bothered by Emil being half a head taller than him and was staring down at him few just a few inches away he didn’t show it.

That was when the sound of aircraft engines could be heard in the distance. “There are some associates of mine who I think you should meet” Bauer said “And I’d prefer that you back down before they see you in my face.”

Emil stepped back and stood there staring at the sky in the direction of the engines as they grew closer. Bauer grabbed a flared gun off the dashboard of the car and fired it up into the air. “You might not like it but I always check out the people I work with” Bauer said “The last thing I need is to get stuck with a well-connected marionette who can’t be gotten rid of, it’s politics Herr Holz and that’s the level you’ve reached.”

“Still though, Stoltz?” Emil asked disgustedly.

Bauer just shrugged. By now the sound of engines was deafening.

There were three airplanes circling the field. One was a dark grey recon/bomber of the sort that was a familiar sight overhead where ever the Army was operating. The other two were scouts, one painted a brilliant crimson, the other red with green wings and nose. As the airplanes rolled to a stop at the far side of the field. Bauer turned to Emil and said “You ought to be happy, you’re about to meet a fellow knight, Holz.”

Bauer went about introducing him to the three pilots and the gunner. Hauptmann Manfred von Richthofen and Lieutenant Kurt Wolff where the two from the scout planes. Feldwebel Georg Simon was the one who’d flown the recon plane with Gefreiter Johan Schultz, the gunner.

They were what was expected of pilots, not particularly large men. Emil knew that von Richthofen was a former cavalry officer and they tended to be on the small side anyway. Wolff was tall, but extremely thin. It was Johan who stood out and not just because he was enlisted. Emil wondered how he fit in the rear cockpit of the recon plane, not because he was particularly big, just broad, like a plow horse.

After the greetings, Bauer had taken them aside to talk while Schultz worked. He was hauling crates out of the recon plane one handed. Then when he started loading the car he’d moved the pistols to the front seat. It was when Schultz took the MG16 out of the backseat he handled it like Emil might handle a Mauser rifle, he was one of the most physically powerful man that Emil had ever encountered. “When can we get some of these, Sir” He called out to Richthofen.

“I’m working on that Schultz” Richthofen said back.

“That’s Jasta 2’s renaissance man over there” Wolff said “Scholar, athlete and mechanic.”

“Wasn’t he supposed to represent Germany at the Olympics last year if it hadn’t gotten cancelled?” Bauer asked “Wrestling?”

“Yes” Richthofen said “Now quit stalling, you got what we came for.”

“Right here” Bauer said handing Richthofen a folder. The pilot flipped it open and as he read the material his face took on a tight smile that raised the hairs on the back of Emil’s neck.

“This is less than a day old? Richthofen asked.

“Yes” Bauer said.

Richthofen clapped his hands like a child on Christmas morning. “Time to go!” He yelled running towards the airplanes.

Emil watched as Schultz started the engines of the airplane with well-practiced swings of the propellers. That explained why they’d brought a mechanic. Then they were gone, the sound of the airplanes fading in the distance.

“What was that all about?” Emil asked.

“Remember what I told you about creating opportunities” Bauer said “Manfred von Richthofen has been hunting this British ace for months, his commanding officer prohibited him from continuing the hunt last year. But then Oswald Boelcke got promoted and Richthofen got his own Jasta. The hunt was back on until Richthofen discovered that the high and mighty in Wunsdorf and Berlin had decided that his obsession was going to get him killed. Every intelligence officer in the Army got the memo that giving Richthofen any information relating to Lanoe Hawker was verboten.”

“That was what you just gave to him?” Emil asked.

“Yep” Bauer said “And got a whole bunch of goodies for the General’s table in return.”

“I get that” Emil said “But why did you think it was so important that I meet them?”

“Because they are the future.”
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DFW C.V like the one in the post.
In photograph left to right, Constantin Krifft, Anthony Fokker, Kurt Wolff, Manfred von Richthofen.

It's an interesting example of forced perspective, in other photographs you can see that Kurt Wolff is about 5 or 6 inches taller than Richthofen.
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Oh boy, looks like conspiracies and machinations are building within the German forces. Just what might they be planning for the future and will they survive to finish what they have started?

Thanks for the update. Things are looking dicey for both sides. I will wait to see just what the next part of 1917 will bring for everyone.
Part 3 Chapter 14
Chapter Fourteen

3rd March, 1917 Wilhelmshaven, Jade Bight, Germany

The atmosphere aboard the Moltke had grown toxic over the last few months. It had gotten so bad that Jacob had come to look forward to going home on leave, his father’s disapproval and all. According to Gunther the wrong comment in the forecastle was enough to kick off a shoving match.

The Board of Inquiry convened to examine the sinking of the Des Moines had ruled that it was an accident. Their conclusions were that because the Des Moines was sailing in an established war zone the Captain should have understood the risks. And that it was a case of mistaken identity due to the proximity of the British convoy, poor visibility and weather. Neither Admiral Franz von Hipper or the crew of the SMS Moltke were found to have been culpable.

The official American diplomatic response to this verdict was deemed too obscene to enter into the official record and the radio messages that Jacob had intercepted from the Royal Navy had been rife with speculation. That the sinking of the Des Moines had had been sunk on purpose. That von Hipper had assassinated the American ambassador on the direct orders of the Emperor. The idea was that Walter Page had been returning to Washington to argue that America should enter the war on the side of the Entente and they had sneaked into the Atlantic with the intent of silencing him. Jacob knew that was nonsense but it seemed that the world didn’t care.

One of the Board’s other recommendations had been that Jacob be promoted to Lieutenant zur See for showing judgement and decisiveness in his attempt to stop that final volley. However, one of the crew who had been standing watch had testified that he might have seen the Des Moines struck by one of the ranging shots as the Moltke bracketed it. So, the damage would have already been done even if Jacob had been a little faster in his run to the bridge.

He’d considered turning down the promotion because it had come at the cost of massively expanding the war. But in the end, it had been Gunther who’d talked him into taking it. “You think you are going to get another chance like this Kid?” Gunther had said to him. That was when he’d realized the real dimensions of his relationship with the Oberstaber.

Gunther had spent a lifetime at sea, his career had topped out and had no family of his own. Jacob had become a son of sorts to him. Every advancement and achievement of Jacob’s he lived vicariously. That’s why he had taken the promotion and that’s why he had tonight’s activities planned.

At the end of their watch Jacob had put on his coat and cap. He said “I can’t stand it here another minute, you coming with?” to Gunther.

“I thought that you’d stay here and mess with the radios like you normally do.”

“I’ve better things to do than listen to the Sailors on ships blockading us complain about the food.”

“Good point” Gunther said following him “What’d you got in mind?”

“There’s a place I heard about” Jacob said.

They got down the gangplank and into the naval base. That’s when the hard looks and muttered comments started. The Board of inquiry might have cleared them but everyone in the fleet knew exactly who had screwed up everything.

“Welcome to our new pariah status” Gunther said half joking.

“Welcome to how I’ve spent my whole life” Jacob replied, dead serious.

They walked out of the gates into Wilhelmshaven proper. It was a rough area. All the businesses were those that catered to sailors. A group of those sailors came out of a seedy bar walking the opposite direction. They saw Jacob’s Lieutenant's uniform and shied away.

“See Kid, there are some advantages to going up the food chain” Gunther said.

They walked into a more respectable part of town and into a restaurant. The room smelled of exotic spices, blockade be damned. Gunther followed Jacob to a table where a conservatively dressed young woman with curly black hair and warm brown eyes sat. She saw Jacob and started talking in rapid fire, Yiddish? To Jacob who responded in kind.

“Gunther, this is my fiancé Esther” Jacob said.

“You must be Oberstabsbootsmann Klimczak” Esther said, stumbling slightly over the unfamiliar words of Gunther’s rank and last name. “I’ve heard so much about you and it’s so nice to finally have a face to put with the name.”

“Pleased to meet you” Gunther said.

“Now please tell me about what you do with Jacob at sea?” Esther said “It all sounds so exciting.”

Near Château-Thierry, France

“If I’d have known I’d be freezing my nuts off out here I’d have told the generals to get bent when they told us to burn all the houses back in October” Horst complained to Sjostedt as they dug in for the night. Sjostedt made a point of ignoring him when he was like this.

“Shut up and enjoy your hole Oberfeld” Someone said in the darkness, Horst couldn’t tell who. Sjostedt heard this and started laughing.

“I swear they give you a tiny bit of rank and it goes right to your head” Horst grumbled. The powers that be were feeling generous with their recent advances up the East road. Sjostedt had gotten an EK1 and a promotion to Unteroffizer on the same day a couple of weeks earlier.

“Perhaps you should go over and complain to the Frogs” Sjostedt said “Tell them that they go home, we go home and call it good.”

“I’ll let you do that” Horst said “In the mean time I’ll keep the machine guns pointed their way.”

Horst was actually quite happy about those machine guns, brand new MG16s. Emil had come through, he had gotten them in what he called a mid-night acquisition and saw to that they got to his old platoon before the rest of the regiment. They’d come as a nasty surprise to the last few French attacks. And the fact that they could be fired while on the move was invaluable.

That was when they heard a Chauchat machine gun being fired somewhere in the distance, the answer to the MG16 that the French had remembered that they had. “I just wish that the French weren’t so quick on the uptake these days.” Muttered Horst.

“It’s because we killed off most of the stupid ones, ages ago” Sjostedt said “And Le Tigre took care of all the dead wood in Paris.”

“Where does that leave us?” Horst asked.

“We push them back, they push us back” Sjostedt said.

“That can’t go on forever" Horst said “In the newspaper I got yesterday the Frogs were just jubilant about the arrival of the first units of the US Marine Corps.”

“Those are light infantry and there aren’t very many of them” Sjostedt said “Did it say anything about the US Army?”

“That it’s still building up on the other side of the Atlantic.”

“You know what’s going to happen, right?”

“Yeah, I do” Horst said.

They sat there in the darkness in silence for a long time.

By early spring of 1917 the Second Battle of the Marne had seemingly turned back into the stalemate that had marked the first years of the war. The sinking of the USS Des Moines off the coast of Ireland and resulting entry of the United States into the War had drastically changed the dynamic of the entire conflict. General Petain was heard to have boasted that he needed only wait until the Americans arrived and then the Germans would be driven from France once and for all. Just months earlier the Germans had believed that they were on the cusp of victory now many within the Government in Berlin whispered that they were on the precipice of national destruction.

Few knew that other forces were at work behind the scenes. The discovery of a British Mark 1 tank on the battlefield of the Somme and the observed effect of similar vehicles when the BEF and French 5th Army Corps broke the Siege of Arras had convinced the German High Command of the utility of such vehicles.

The first proposals (see Left, Top) consisted of large unwieldy vehicles. However, testing of the British Mark 1, captured Holt tractors and early experience of the Marne theater revealed that any large, heavy vehicle would be impractical. A much smaller, more mobile vehicle would be needed.

The vehicle that was accepted by the German Army, was referred to as Tracked Armored Vehicle officially but the name Raupe meaning caterpillar was what stuck with its crews (see Left, Bottom) It used as much readily available technology as possible. The control system was based on the Holt 45 tractor, the engine was a 140 Horse Power Mercedes Benz D.2 and it was armed with Cockerill-Nordenfelt 57mm cannon as the main gun and 2 8mm machine guns. The crew of 4 (driver, gunner, loader and commander sat in an armored casemate in the front with a bulkhead separating the crew from the engine in the rear.

The Raupe went from the drawing board to production in 8 months with the first examples reaching the front lines in June of 1917. Which proved fortuitous because the Schneider TA and Char St. Chamond tanks had appeared on the battlefield at about the same time.

The other development was the fielding of the Halberstadt CL.II, the first dedicated ground attack aircraft.

With these the German Army began what they hoped would be the last offensive on the East Road…

Excerpt from Road to Hell, The Second Battle of the Marne, 1998.
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TTL may well get to read LOTR, cool. The snippet about Emil's lack of promotions alludes to something goofing up his future. Will he piss off someone at the HQ?

Well thanks for the update. :)
Oh no, just standard procedure in every army. If you skip time in rank, your next promotion WILL be delayed, so that don't upset to nice career tracks of all those REMF's that lag behind you now.
Another bloody campaign is about to begin. Will the Entente be able to counter the new German weapons?
Oh no, just standard procedure in every army. If you skip time in rank, your next promotion WILL be delayed, so that don't upset to nice career tracks of all those REMF's that lag behind you now.

Sounds logical. Well Emil at least got one and may use his new connections to give his old unit even more goodies.
Part 3 Chapter 15
Chapter Fifteen

4th March, 1917

Reims, France

“They got to you too I see” Emil heard a voice behind him say.

He turned and saw that Horst was standing there leaning against the wall next to the door that Emil had just walked out of. They were in front of the apartment building that Emil had been quartered in for the last few months. As he was required to, Emil was wearing his dress uniform which included his medals. It was ironic, the girls loved it but anyone from the front tended to view anyone dressed that way as being a phony rear echelon type. Though when Emil thought about it, that was sort of what he’d become.

“Unfortunately, in headquarters they get pissed off when you look and smell like you slept in a hole last night” Emil said with a smile.

Horst raised his hand “Guilty” He said.

“Come on” Emil said “I have to get into headquarters to see what demands the General will make of me today, you can walk with me and if you’re really lucky you’ll get a chance to raid the General’s larder.”

“it’s always nice how you look out for your friends” Horst said “Does that include you coming to visit me in the stockade after I get caught?”

“What do you think?” Emil said with a smirk.

As Emil walked down the street he noticed that Horst fell into step beside him. Old habits, he thought.

“I wanted to thank you for sending up those new machine guns” Horst said.

“We had some extras and I wanted to send them to where they’d be put to good use.”

Had Horst just heard him right, extras? “Yeah, we put them to great use, is that the sort of problem you see a lot of around here?”

“Not quite” Emil said “There are thousands soldiers in the 2nd Army and all of them need things. I happened to be in the position to make that particular miracle happen.”

“Lucky for us.”

“You know as well as I do that it’s good to have friends in strange places” Emil said.

Horst smiled, this was the same Emil, fancy uniform or not.

“You’ll be pleased to know that Lang is doing okay” Emil said.

“You’ve been in touch with him?”

“Of course” Emil said “When I go home on leave I don’t encounter too many others who know what the front smells like in the neighborhood.”

“Must be nice to do that” Horst said. Emil knew that Horst wasn’t on speaking terms with his family so he spent his leaves drinking up his back pay in Berlin dive bars.

Ahead of them there was a commotion, a large crowd of soldiers and even several civilians standing around a several lorries and there was a lot of shoving and shouting.

“What’s going on over there” Horst asked.

“That’s the day’s mail coming in” Emil said “Normally, it’s a just shy of a riot but even this is worse than usual.”

A line of soldiers fought their way clear of the crowd carrying mailbags towards the cathedral, which was being used as the 2nd Army’s headquarters. Emil stopped one of them. “What’s going on here?” He asked.

“You haven’t heard yet, Sir” The Soldat said “There’s a revolution on in Russia, the Czar quit yesterday.”

The Soldat then stepped around them and resumed his walk into headquarters.

“The Czar quit” Horst echoed “What does that mean for us?”

“It means that Russia might be out of the war soon” Emil said.

Horst saw why everyone was so excited by that, for the first time in a long time he felt the glimmer of hope. He might actually live to see the end of this.

5,000 meters over the front lines near Arras.

Three Albatros Scouts of Jasta 11 flew in a tight line echelon formation. Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen was flying the lead plane with Kurt Wolf and his brother Lothar trailing. When he described this life to journalists it always came out like one of hardship. The bitter cold, the liberal amounts of oil that the engines spit out and the constant specter of death present. But the truth was that it was here that he felt most alive. Most people with their feet planted on the ground had no idea. Here with the world spread out like a map and billowy clouds passing by he understood that this was the perspective of eagles. The best part was that he was able to bring his love for the hunt into this rarified domain.

Today’s mission was something of a risk. It was the reason that Manfred could only afford to take along Lothar and Wolff, they could be trusted to back up his version of events no matter what happened. It came from being well outside of the areas where Jasta 11 was expected to patrol. Simply put, he’d exceeded his orders for an opportunity to get a crack at Major Lanoe Hawker. He’d thought that he’d never get another chance after Boelcke had stopped the hunt last year and Hawker had transferred back to England.

But now he understood what he didn’t back then. Oswald Boelcke had taken a promotion that would take him from the front lines and leading a squadron forever. All the plans they had laid out for the formation of Jagdgeschwadr 1 or JG-1, the combining of four Jastas into one large hunting group that could control the skies over Army operations no matter how many planes the Entente fielded, had been left to Manfred. Boelcke had gone to Berlin with a larger vision. He had decided that so long as the needs of the Imperial Air Service were suborned to those of the Army they would never truly be met.

Boelcke was using his fame and good standing to lobby the Emperor and the Reichstag for the formation of the Air Service into its own service branch, in a concept he referred to as Air Force, Luftwaffe.

Boelcke being the clever strategist that he was knew that this proposal would cause a firestorm within the High Command, so he’d included as part of his proposal that the Navy could keep their Air Service. The truth was that he knew nothing about running ships or what the Navy might want in the future. Not surprisingly, the Kaiserliche Marine had enthusiastically backed Boelcke’s proposal just to stick it to the Heer and the Heer accused them of being self-serving. The result was KLM and the Heer were so intent on fighting each other that Boelcke had been ignored while he went about his lobbying.

That was when Manfred had finally understood Boelcke’s point, it wasn’t about him. Boelcke needed Manfred to be out there leading JG-1 so that he could be doing what he was and Manfred selfishly hunting a random British pilot in a personal beef was not a part of that.

This had been reinforced when the Albatros Scouts had all been fitted with bomb racks and they found themselves flying close air support for infantry in the Marne and Arras sectors. That was hard, dangerous work but Manfred’s crimson Albatros which had become the most visible icon of what Boelcke was trying to achieve was seen all over the most active parts of the front.

But here Manfred was out hunting Hawker again. While he understood what Boelcke wanted, he also understood that this was a matter of personal honor. Hawker was back in France leading the 54th Squadron and months ago, he’d personally challenged Manfred. A challenge that had gone unanswered, which was totally unacceptable.

Then through a gap in the clouds Manfred spotted four specks several kilometers away and a few hundred meters below. As they drew closer detail grew clearer and he saw that they were the Sopwith Pups of 54th and they’d not yet spotted the Albatros Scouts.

Manfred pushed the rudder pedals wagging the wings of his plane to get Wolff and Lothar’s attention. Once he’d caught their eye had signaled the attack and had gotten the thumbs up affirmative back.

Manfred performed a wingover flipping the Albatros and going into a nearly vertical dive while pulling back the throttle, idling the engine. As he accelerated he completed the roll bringing him upright, his back to the sun.

Major Lanoe Hawker had sensed that something was amiss right before two of planes of his patrol were shot down. Three garishly painted enemy planes had driven through and they’d put him at bad odds just like that. He saw that two of the enemy planes were taking on his remaining companion. That was when he saw the remaining enemy plane was painted completely red, this was that Hun braggart and fraud who he’d called out finally answering the challenge. If that was what the Hun wanted, then he was going to give it to him.

The two planes circled each other for a moment trying to get a gauge of the other. Then the Hun tried to turn inside of him and Lanoe counter rolled to get onto the tail of the red plane. When he came out of the roll then the Hun broke right. Lanoe was about to follow when he saw a flash of red and blue pass before his Pup. A line of holes appeared in the top of the fuselage if front of the cockpit next to the Vickers and the engine burst into flames. What just happened? was the last thought that Lanoe had before the fire reached the gas tank, blowing the Pup apart.

Manfred smiled as he watched Lanoe Hawker’s Pup go down in flames. Wolff had just put the finishing touches on the last Pup and returned to formation with Manfred and Lothar. He’d gotten one and Wolff had gotten two. Not bad, actually.

Lothar gave him a thumbs up that Manfred returned. Lothar would be happy, he’d just taken out the late great Major Lanoe Hawker with a perfect head on deflection shot. Before the mission, they had been planning for Hawker to be focused on Manfred and Lothar could get a shot on him from an angle he’d never expect. Manfred had doubted if he could and bet him that he couldn’t. Now, Manfred owed Lothar a bottle of good booze, Lothar wasn’t picky and Manfred hoped he’d share. It had saved them the trouble of the long dogfight that Hawker would have subjected them to.

When Manfred had decided that he would continue his vendetta against Hawker he had considered what Boelcke had been trying to teach him. He’d realized that it wasn’t about him, it was about the Jasta. That Manfred truly lived and died by its strengths and weaknesses, he had to include them as much as he could. It was something that the French and British hadn’t discovered yet. This lethal game being fought over the skies of France was actually a team sport and he was the one making the rules.
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Part 3 Chapter 16
Chapter Sixteen

With the Summer offensive rapidly approaching an absurd turf war began within the German Heer. The development of the Raupe had aggravated a long simmering dispute between commanders Infantry and Artillery, the new vehicle having features that both could lay claim to. When it was pointed out by Reserve Captain Joseph Vollmer (the Project Leader) that the proposed tactics were in effect, armored cavalry. This got the attention of Georg von der Marwitz, Inspector-General of Cavalry, who settled the issue by fiat, the new vehicles would belong to the Cavalry.

At this point with only weeks before the planned start date of the offensive the training of crews could commence hindered only by the lack of Raupe tanks. Joseph Vollmer and the innovative Lieutenant Colonel Manfred Wolvogle were able to work closely and solve these problems…

Excerpt from Road to Hell, The Second Battle of the Marne, 1998. [For suggested further reading; Vollmer and Wolvogle, the rebirth of the German Cavalry and birth of the Panzer Corps, 1975.]

30th April, 1917

Outside Leipzig, Germany.

Where did they dig this stubborn impetuous jackass up from? Hauptmann Joseph Vollmer thought to himself as he recovered from Oberstlieutenant Manfred Wolvogle’s latest action. He understood that the lack of machines beyond the prototype had slowed the training of the first 100 volunteers. Some of Wolvogle’s ideas worked well, having the drivers train on holt 45 tractors while looking through a periscope like the one used on a Raupe and a tarp thrown over their head was good. Others like training the gunnery crews on a turntable that could be spun randomly in either direction while they were in a similar arrangement seemed sadistic. “This isn’t a business for goddamn pansies” was all Wolvogle would say on the matter.

Then there was the matter of Wolvogle attempting to figure out the ways he could “improve” the prototype even though he had no clue about how machinery worked or cared. Now word had reached him that Wolvogle had been seen walking in the direction with two engineers and welding equipment. That couldn’t possibly have a happy ending.

The Oberstlieutenant was standing outside the shed where they kept the Raupe, they needed to find a better name for these things, when Vollmer caught up with him. What level of destruction had he wrought on the prototype?

“When we were driving around this morning I had a great idea of what to do with the commander’s hatch” Wolvogle said.

By necessity the commander’s seat was in the very back of the cramped casemate and one of the two hatches on the roof was over commanders seat. Wolvogle had taken to riding around with the hatch open and standing on the seat defeating the whole idea of having an armored vehicle in the first place. He liked to be able to see what was happening around them, he said, and that was hard to do when looking through a narrow periscope.

He’d had welded a ring mount from a reconnaissance airplane to the top of the Raupe around the hatch.

“What do you think?” Wolvogle asked “You can never have enough guns to point at the enemy.”

That it looks absurd, Vollmer thought, it ruined the lines. “It’s practical” He said.

“Glad you like it” Wolvogle said “It’s going on the production model”

“I thought we agreed you were going to check with me before you did things like this?”

“I never agreed to that” Wolvogle said matter-of-fact “You asked me to and the last time I looked, I outrank you.”

Vollmer hated it when he pulled rank to settle any argument.

“Now take a look inside” Wolvogle said “I figured out how to cram a radio in there.”

Vollmer’s face turned red with helpless outrage, Wolvogle didn’t care.

North Sea, Atlantic Ocean

1 Scouting Group had finally put back to sea. Admiral von Hipper knew that their leaving Jade Bight would not go unnoticed, in fact he was counting on it. He knew that there was a good chance that the Royal Navy would come charging after the battlecruisers like an enraged bull. His consideration was that he might get a target of opportunity. If not, it was an opportunity to blow out the cobwebs that had resulted from the funk that the crews had been in since the events of the prior autumn.

Jacob was back in the Radio Room on his watch with Gunther as he listened to the radio traffic trying to identify potential threats or targets. Managing the radio traffic of the Moltke wasn’t a consideration when they radio silent like now. He looked at the sealed frame (just in case) by his work station, that had been a gift from Esther, it was a copy of the photograph from their wedding day. What had surprised him was just who had shown up.

He’d been expecting his and Esther’s families but there had been a surprising number of people who he knew from the Fleet who came. Jacob had conspired with Gunther to invite Otto, his partner. With him known to be a mutual friend of theirs it didn’t prove difficult. Then there were the radio operators from the other watches and from around 1 Scouting Group, some of whom he had known for years but had failed to realize that they were friends. How had he done that? Many of them had come.

It had never occurred to Jacob that the job attracted a certain type but it was obvious with them in the room. The word nebbish might have come to mind except he’d found himself stopping them from settling a debate about physics and electricity right there in the middle of the reception with a practical experiment. They were anything but helpless, somewhat dangerous in fact.

Now a month later here he was, at sea listening intently to an unfamiliar naval cypher. He did his usual visualization and waited as his mind made sense of what he was hearing. The colors and musical notes resolved into equations and then there was the key.

BB-35 TX…

He sat there listening to this for several minutes. Nothing unusual, just shipboard chatter. Then he stopped focusing on the radio and saw that Gunther and the Admiral were watching him.

“He walked in and I told him that when you did that not to interrupt you” Gunther said apologetically.

This was his most closely held secret and now he’d have to explain it to Admiral von Hipper himself.

“There are two American battleships out there, Sir” Jacob said “Texas and Wyoming”

“How do you know that Lieutenant?” the Admiral asked.

“I’ve been listening in on their radio traffic.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be encrypted?”

“It is, Sir” Jacob said “But I sort of broke the code.”

“Would you care to explain how you did that?”

“I can’t do that, I do it in my head and…” Jacob said lamely.

“You broke the American naval code in your head?” von Hipper asked him incredulously.

“I’ve seen him do it many times, Sir” Gunther said “You should see what he gets when we listen in on the Army…”

Jacob threw a withering look at Gunther who fell silent. Gunther had just told the Admiral that he could break German codes. The fact that Jacob was a walking security risk would not be lost on anyone.

The Admiral looked at Jacob and said “You know those ships are out there. Can you tell me where they are?”

“If you flash a message to the other ships of the Group I can triangulate where they are, Sir.” Jacob said nervously.

“As soon as you know the answer to that I want the answer as well” the Admiral said. His eyes were blazing. He wanted a target of opportunity and he’d just gotten one or two possibles.

“I don’t need to tell you two that you are to tell no one else about what you doing in here.” The Admiral said as he walked out.
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Part 3 Chapter 17
Chapter Seventeen

1st May, 1917

North Sea, Atlantic Ocean

Admiral von Hipper had insisted that Jacob come to the bridge as soon as the American Task Force was just over the horizon according to his calculations. It was the first time he’d been invited there while operations were underway. Normally he was in the radio room. While that was near the bridge, it was far enough away that no one had to think about it unless a message needed to be sent or received. It was the early morning hours and the skies were gray with rainclouds and the ocean was dotted with whitecaps.

A squall line, Jacob realized. The Admiral was using the weather to mask the approach of 1 Scouting Group. The Moltke was going north-west on an intercept course for the Texas and Wyoming. He could see the Seydlitz as an indistinct shape behind them in the misty rain. He presumed that Von der Tann and Derfflinger were trailing but invisible in the predawn gloom.

“Admiral Scheer has made a point to start engagements in the late afternoon” The Admiral had told Jacob who was feeling very much like he didn’t belong here “It enables him to escape into darkness but it’s predictable. If we are really lucky our American friends will assume that we’re holding to that and we’ll be able to give them quite a surprise before breakfast.”

Then Jacob heard the clicking of the shutters on the signal lamps. The helmsman then changed the course of the Moltke to a right angle to the one they’d been on before and speed was slightly reduced. The battlecruiser rolled with the waves with a motion that probably would have sent a landsman straight to the rail. It occurred to Jacob that wasn’t who he was, not for a long time.

They had crossed the T of the Texas and the convoy it was escorting. The Wyoming was at the tail end of the convoy and would be dealt with in turn. As of five minutes ago, Gunther had said that they hadn’t been detected. A large shape loomed out of the rain, the Texas.

The guns of the Moltke fired as one and Jacob huge splashes around the Texas and a couple of bright flashes on the ship itself. Then more flashes as the Texas absorbed several more hits. The secondary 15 cm and 8.8 cm guns started firing and a large explosion lit up the ocean just a few hundred meters away from the Texas. “That’s one destroyer that’s not going to launch any torpedoes” He heard someone say.

There was a shrieking sound and Jacob saw something in the water out of the corner of his eye. Splashes from the Texas’s 36 cm guns, they’re shooting back, he thought.

The gunners found their range and the Texas was taking hit after hit. How much punishment could that ship take?

There was a loud crash and an explosion on the port side, the gunners on the Texas had found their range.

Jacob heard Captain von Karpf instructing damage control parties to get into the damaged portion of the ship. He wanted a full assessment in five minutes, that didn’t sound reasonable but that wasn’t the point, was it? Just get it done, fast.

Jacob looked over at Admiral von Hipper who was observing the battle with calm detachment. He looked at Jacob and nodded, this was his show and Jacob was to follow his instructions. Observe, stay out of the way and be quiet.

There were more flashes on the Texas, she was listing badly to starboard and was trying to make a turn. The Texas was trying to bring her aft guns to bear Jacob realized. The forward turrets must have been knocked out. The starboard list grew worse and then the Texas rolled up on her side, the bridge crew started cheering. As the Texas capsized and slid beneath the waves, Jacob knew then that they’d beat the curse that had followed them around since the Des Moines incident.

4th May, 1917

Near Château-Thierry, France

“Excuse me, Oberfeld” One of the men asked.

“What can I help you with?” Horst asked.

“Well, you know…”

“I understand perfectly” Horst said handing the Soldat a couple of pages of the French newspaper that he’d just finished reading.

“You are a gentleman and a scholar” The Soldat said as he went behind some nearby bushes.

“You take that back right now!” Horst yelled after the man, he chuckled when he got no answer.

“So, what’s the bad news?” Sjostedt asked.

“It’s good news for us today” Horst said “An American battleship Captain took on von Hipper’s Scouting Group by his lonesome and ended up in the drink, another battleship limped back into Scapa Flow so badly shot up that it could be used as sieve and they lost the convoy that they were escorting.”

“What else did the newspaper say?”

“The Americans are complaining that von Hipper conducted an unfair ambush on the American ships.”

“Bitching about unfair in war?” Sjostedt said shaking his head “Didn’t anyone tell them that this is a back-alley knife fight, we complain about rules to the Frogs and they’ll laugh themselves to death.”

They had been holding this position for weeks. The Marne sector had actually gone quiet for a change, which was nothing short of a miracle. Which meant that everyone was waiting for the next foot to drop. The rumors were that the high muckety-mucks had something big planned. Usually they these plans came down and it was left to them to figure out how to carry it out. This would probably be no different.

A rifle shot zipped by, a second later they heard the report. This caused the entire platoon to rush to their respective holes. The Soldat who’d been taking a crap in the bushes managed to make it with his pants still down around his ankles. That would make for a funny story in a few days, provided that no one gets killed, Horst thought.

Horst swung his rifle and sighted on the figures that were rushing their position. He fired and watched the man go down. These weren’t Frogs, they were wearing green uniforms and had British style helmets. The platoons machine guns opened up and dozens of them went down. Damn, these must be fresh fish Horst thought to himself. War is a brutal teacher that winnows out the stupid, ignorant and unlucky in a hurry.

After a spell, they fell back, 7.7 cm artillery started landing in the presumed area that the attackers had come from.

“Whoever they are, they got balls” Sjostedt said after it had quieted down again “They got close and rushed us, without shelling us first. Someone had a case of nerves and took a shot, otherwise they would have been right on top of us before we knew they were there.”

“It’s like something the Frogs would have done except these guys did it in broad daylight” Horst said to everyone within earshot “You hear that, I want everyone to keep an eye out at all times!”

That should have been a given but lately they’d grown complacent. That wasn’t good.

After a while Horst climbed out of his foxhole out to where the dead men were. He poked a few of them with the muzzle of his rifle. As he’d learned in that trench in Verdun, a thousand years earlier, on the battlefield dead wasn’t dead until dirt got shoveled. Even then you had to watch it because soldiers tended to keep the damnedest things in their pockets.

“I think these are American Marines” Sjostedt said.

He found one that was still alive, this man was older than the rest, with eagles on the collar of his uniform. The others had British style stripes on their sleeves, this man must be an officer.

“I got a live one here” Horst yelled as he tore open the tunic of the man to try to see if anything could be done about the man’s wounds. He saw that a burst of machine gun fire had chewed up the man’s abdomen. If he had to guess judging by the set of the man’s legs his spine had been shattered as well, otherwise he’d be screaming in pain. He was amazed that this man was still alive.

Smedley was laying on his back when two German soldiers came up to him. After all the crazy things, he’d done in China and the Caribbean this was where he’d end up. In a muddy field, somewhere in France. One of the soldiers, the one he thought was a Staff Sargent tore open his tunic. The Sargent muttered something, Smedley thought he heard the word Chaos in there. Mess?

Then the other one, the Corporal pointed to the Globe and Anchor tattoo on his chest. “Ja, Marines” the Corporal said to his companion.

“I hope you won’t judge me too harshly for that” Smedley said weakly to them not expecting an answer.

“Most of the 4th Division got a tattoo like that after Verdun” The Corporal said in perfect English, American (West Coast?) accent. “Including me and Horst here.”

Smedley looked at the Corporal in astonishment. “Where are you from?” he asked.

“Arizona, Sir.”


The Corporal just shrugged “My family fell on hard times and we went back to my family’s farm in Schleswig-Holstein, the war started and I got conscripted.”

“Aren’t you worried what will happen if I tell others you’re an American serving in the German Army?”

The Corporal looked to his companion who shook his head, the corporal nodded. "I don’t think that’s something we need to worry about, Sir” He said “I’m sorry.”

Smedley looked at the Corporal “Thank you for being honest about that that…um” He paused not knowing his name.

“Piers Sjostedt, Sir” The Corporal said “Unteroffizer, Deeutsches Heer”

“Pleased to have made your acquaintance Piers” Smedley said “Smedley Butler, Colonel, United States Marine Corps.”

Smedley thought about it, it all seemed so stupid, these wars, nations and borders. “If not for stupid luck and happenstance you could have just as easily been one of my men.”

“I regret to say that it’s probably true” Sjostedt said.

Hours later, after sunset, they came for Colonel Butler and his men for burial. Sjostedt sat in his foxhole for hours into the night, deep in thought.

End of part 3
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Just caught up on the three chapters and will say I am still loving the story. The Red Baron has learned to be patient and work as a team to get kills, and will probably live through the War. Emil is helping his old mates and will continue to feed them weapons and intel. The Germans are building up a tank corps and now have commander's machine guns. Any attacking Entente plane may well get a surprise when those guns start shooting back.

The US has lost a treasures memorial from OTL and the Germans continue to read the codes that should have sen the German ships into the deep. The US Marines have landed, and struck out in the first fight.

Thanks for the updates and I look forward to what may happen next.
Just caught up on the three chapters and will say I am still loving the story. The Red Baron has learned to be patient and work as a team to get kills, and will probably live through the War. Emil is helping his old mates and will continue to feed them weapons and intel. The Germans are building up a tank corps and now have commander's machine guns. Any attacking Entente plane may well get a surprise when those guns start shooting back.

The US has lost a treasures memorial from OTL and the Germans continue to read the codes that should have sen the German ships into the deep. The US Marines have landed, and struck out in the first fight.

Thanks for the updates and I look forward to what may happen next.

I haven't decided how far I wanted to extend this out. But I've considered a few interesting ideas that include a firefight in a World Heritage Site that is pure nightmare fuel for UNESCO. So the USS Texas is not the only museum piece I intend to destroy. Would bullet holes in the Rosetta Stone be considered a problem?

As for what happened to the USMC they found themselves fighting against a veteran Division that had fought in Verdun, the Somme and Second Marne for more than a year. That's a brutally steep learning curve. They do earn the title given to them by the Germans in the First World War, Devil Dogs.
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